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When I heard that JMSN would perform at the Trix in Antwerp on April 17, I immediately wanted to get an interview with him as he’s on the list of the artists I admire the most, because they have a real vision and they always manage to arouse my senses through their music and the aesthetics attached to it.
But like I already learned since my interview with Alex Vargas, my admiration often goes hand in hand with a tiny bit of timidity and I was therefore already scared to death even before sending my email request to his publicist. These stressful butterflies hadn’t left my stomach when JMSN appeared in front of me, chill as hell, casually dressed with shorts and a simple white tee, his long Jesus hair tied in a low bun and his feet sleeping in some espadrilles. Cool as fuck, I’m telling you, like he was on vacation. Talking about holidays, mine had just ended a few hours ago and my anxiety came back real quick, as soon as I landed, even. But let me remind you that “a smile costs nothing but gives much” and “brings rest to the weary” (credits: the cheesy poem hanging proudly on the wall of my living-room). After a few questions spent being fascinated by Christian’s perfect teeth (so what? I had never seen him smile in his music videos so please understand my supreme shock), I finally managed to loosen up and to fully enjoy our laid-back conversation.
That easy-going philosophy is also very much appreciated by Adam, his manager —who refuses to introduce himself as such even though that’s what he’s been referred as in every email — who loves chit-chatting with the fans. Just like JMSN by the way, as he was “in the field” to take pictures and sign autographs after the gig. That’s the kind of privileges you can get when you’re attending a show in a small venue. Along with the perk to pay 10€ only for your ticket. Although God knows I would have agreed to spend 10 times more money for mine, as I enjoyed myself so much. ‘Cause JMSN might pay close attention to details when he’s creating his music but he surely makes sure to let loose when it comes to present his work live on stage, Boogie Basics and so-called “half decent” guitar riffs (that’s what he says) included. And it feels good! So take and eat his good vibes, this is his interview, which is written for you.
The American Boy Tour was your first European tour. How do you feel about it? Did you notice any differences between the crowds?
Yeah, there were definitely differences between the crowds and it’s been awesome. It’s such a crazy thing to come over and have anybody coming over to your show. It’s trippy. You know what I mean? It’s not so different, but it is. It’s like, you’re in a different place and people still know about you! They’re excited about it and it inspires me to a whole different level. It’s been great.
Have you been writing on tour?
No. Wait! Yeah, I did actually: I wrote lyrics! I didn’t write any music or anything… I’ll write that later!
Your Blue album has a very live sound. Did you think of it beforehand, ‘cause you knew you’d want to embark on this whole tour experience in Europe (and in the US)?
Yeah, for sure! I wanna tour with every album and I think I was drawn to… I wanted to go more towards a live sound and hopefully, with the next album, I’ll get even closer to that. The only reason it wasn’t before was because of a lack of resources so I’m kind of getting to where I wanna be.
Is your next album going to be very different from your previous work?
Yes, it will be lyrically, musically, production wise… I’ve already started to make the songs and they’re going in a completely different way. I’m excited and nervous at the same time — I think that’s a good sign to be nervous about it, it means you’re really stepping out of your comfort zone.
I really feel a strong female presence on every album: in the themes, the background vocals, the interludes… I was wondering if you were thinking about maybe doing a proper female collaboration someday?
Yeah, it would be awesome! One of my favorite artists is Prince. He’s a big inspiration for me and he would always have females on his songs… I take inspiration from that, in that regard, like in Waves where I’m just having a female that sing that chorus cause the sentiment wouldn’t have been right if I was singing that, you know what I mean? So I found another singer to sing it.
Is there any female singer you would love to work with?
There are several and I think that Lauryn Hill would be on the top of the list! (laughs) But I feel like I gotta get better to keep up!
You’ve worked with many great artists already so… you’ll never know!
Yeah but they are not as good as Lauryn Hill though! Just saying… (laughs)
Your family seems very supportive. Do you come from a musical family? How did you get into music?
Yeah. There was never a point when I decided I wanted to do music: it was just always in me. I can’t remember doing anything else. I can’t remember wanting to do anything else. I don’t think there was ever a time when anything else that drew my attention, except for music. It’s just always been that way. It’s trippy to think of when it all started or if it wasn’t there… But it’s just always been there. You know, a lot of people don’t know what they love. I knew right off the bat for some reason. I got lucky!
How come religion is so highlighted in your music? Do you do it to make people think or…?
I guess you could call me a spiritual person. I just think religion and spirituality are the foundations of the human race. It’s important and it’s embedded in all of us. We have these questions of… “What is it?”. We all know there’s something there, we’re all trying to figure it out. It’s like this thing is present in everything I do. Everything is connected by this one thing, whether you call it energy, universe — whatever you call it, there’s this one thing so it is present. And for me, as far as visually wise, the face I personify as is Christianity but it could as easily be Muslim or Hindu or Buddha, whatever. Just cause I put that face on it doesn’t mean that it’s strictly that. It’s all the same thing. I just wanted to personify it in that way ‘cause that’s the way I wanted to do it: I enjoy these images and I read what the Bible says, all that stuff. I haven’t done enough research to represent anything else. But just from living life, I feel like it all works the same, it’s all trying to help the human race. So I’m not promoting anything but that: love.
You’re playing a bit around with it (e.g. the Fallin’ music video)… Is it sometimes a way for you to provoke?
No, never! I think my own thing is just to help people lighten up. It’s not that serious and it’s not that literal too. I’m just trying to push us as people to evolve, even if it’s just “that much”.
The visuals are a very big part of your music. What inspires you? Contemporary art, movies… I can see so many different references in your work.
I just like to look at pictures of anything. I don’t even know half the artists of the pictures I’m looking at. I just go through it like on Tumblr: I follow a bunch of blogs that just put these feeds, these images to my timeline and I’m just scrolling through and taking in all the inspiration. It’s kind of like walking through an art exhibit or something.
I was actually thinking that you could totally do an exhibition with all your art!
Yeah, eventually I’m gonna do some stuff like that but I feel like I’m still trying to figure out the music thing and to really master that. And once I’ll do, I feel like I’ll be able to give my time to something else. But I don’t wanna spread myself thin anyway!
Who came up with the whole old school vibe of the last videos?
Man, it happened naturally! We had recorded a video of Street Sweeper with a nice camera and stuff like that, and a crew… and it didn’t turn out right. It was the same video and I was just like “I don’t feel anything”. Then I got a 20-dollar-VHS camera and filmed it again. And it was exactly what I wanted. And I was just like “Well… Let’s keep going with this!”.
You could do a VHS of the tour!
Oh yeah! Oh yeah! I wanna put a whole VHS of all the videos on one tape and I’m gonna make a special edition!
I saw that Boogie Basics VHS being sold out on your website. Was that even a real thing or just a joke?
It was definitely recorded! And I like how the artwork was just the label. I literally just scanned in the tape: I put it on the scanner and I was like “That’s the one”! (laughs)
You previously said in an interview that you brought the Priscilla album to Universal when you were putting it together and they didn’t approve your musical direction. If they were now reaching out with a record deal, what would you say?
I don’t know, I would have to see… I mean, it’s a lot more complicated than just saying “yes” or “no”. I’m not closed off to any type of anything. If somebody wants to help, I would ask “How do you want to help?”. That’s how I work. And you know Universal approached me again and it just didn’t work out because… Me right now compared to me back then… I asked questions that they probably didn’t want to answer, you know what I mean? So I was like “What are you gonna do? How are you going to help with this?”. And if you can’t answer those questions then there’s no reason for me to have this conversation. I’m sure I’ll find somebody someday that can help to do stuff that we’re still trying to figure out. For JMSN, it’s only my tour manager and myself. We have a publicist in the UK, a publicist in the States and that’s about it. If we can add people to the team: awesome. But we have to know what you’re doing for us ‘cause it can’t be nothing. There’s no reason for us to have someone who does nothing, or something that we’re doing. Add something, add force!
You actually own a record label: White Room Records. Have you signed any new artists? I heard about Alcordo whom I adore. What’s the situation? Is she signed?
No, not yet. But we’re very close. She just sent me back some notes on the business side and we’re figuring it out but I think it’s gonna happen very soon. I’ll make the formal announcement when it does. I’m excited about this upcoming artist. We already wrote the songs so it will be easy after that, once we’ll have cleared that out. And Pearl has another album coming soon. I haven’t decided if it will be before the Alcordo one or after but it’s a good one too. It’s almost done: we’re still waiting on a couple of features for that one.
Finally, as you do everything yourself, can you tell us what’s a day in the life of JMSN?
Wow. I wake up, take a shower, get a coffee and then… No, wait: I wake up, take a shower, send out merch orders if anybody orders any merch and then I go and get a coffee. After that, I come back and just work on music and check if there is any emails I need to answer, whatever. (Music all day!) Even on weekends! I’m constantly trying to figure out, you know, what… There’s nothing else I’d rather do, honestly. So it’s my job, yeah, and it’s career but it’s because I love it I guess so I give it all my time and I’m constantly trying to get better at it.
If you haven’t read it yet, don’t forget to check out the part 1 of our interview to learn about JMSN’s favorite songs!